An Unusual Christmas Celebration

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  • The work of Amy Carmichael in south India, known as the Dohnavur Fellowship, is still very much alive.  Sometimes foreigners help for a limited time, but an Indian woman, Nesaruthina Carunia, is the director.  All her regular staff are Indian.  In the beautiful compound there is a hospital where at Christmas time a feast is given for the lepers—a feast very different from American celebrations, yet one which surely means infinitely more to those sufferers than our elaborate and expensive ones.  As I read Balaleela’s account in the prayer letter, Dust of Gold, I thought what a prodigious undertaking it is, yet how full of deep joy both for the guests and for those who work so hard to prepare everything.  

    Ponder the relative simplicity of the occasion, in contrast to our frantic spending and our so often harried and hectic attempts to “have fun.”  Here is the story:

    “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is there anything too hard for Me?” – Jeremiah 32:27

    “Always pray and never lose heart.” – Luke 19:1

    These were challenging verses to me when I was praying about the Leprosy Feast.  Very few patients had been coming to collect medicines recently as the special drug we were giving had been stopped in accordance with Government ruling.  It was the rainy season and this could have prevented many from coming to the Feast, but God had everything in hand.

    Cooks were engaged, foodstuffs and vegetables, etc. were bought, cooking vessels hired.  Firewood was stacked ready and extra electric lights installed.  Banana leaves, for use as plates, were washed and placed in neat piles; spoons and coconut shell ladles counted.  Hospital staff enjoyed collecting the yellow tecoma flowers to make into garlands and the whole place was decorated with colored stars, etc.  

    The night of cooking started with prayer, then the employees washed and chopped and cooked.  The team was cheered by visits from our Accals and Annachies (the women and men who work at Dohnavur, which includes those who care for the more than four hundred children who live there).  The Lord controlled the weather, so that they were able to do most of the cooking in the outer courtyard.  However, early in the morning heavy rain began, and a place had to be found for the frying under cover of the roof.  When it was all finished the garlands were hung, and the outpatient waiting-halls looked beautiful.  The patients started to arrive and before 9:00 a.m. there were more than 150 people.  We held the meeting inside the hall instead of in the open air and the people listened attentively.  The speaker had a profound message for the patients as well as those helping them.  After the meeting, the guests found a place to sit with their leaves in front of them.   Heaps of rice and curry were served and they happily started to fill up their vessels also, to take home for other family members!  Although it is the custom in India to eat with the fingers, some guests needed spoons because their fingers were too deformed or missing altogether.

    Each guest was given a Christmas card with a Tamil Bible text added, a banana, and the children also had a flower posy to decorate their hair.  They all seemed very happy.  

    After the Feast, those who needed medicines collected them and set off for home.  As soon as they had left it started to pour with rain, which made their journey difficult but made our job of cleaning up much easier.  The remaining food was distributed among the employees who had worked all night and those who had helped clear up afterwards. 

    The Lord helped us to pray and not lose heart, and our reward was to see so many patients come.  Praise and glory to God for Whom nothing is too hard.

    This excerpt was originally published in the November/December 1997 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.